When the Raiders declined RB Josh Jacobs’ fifth-year option the weekend of the 2022 NFL Draft, the new Raiders regime clued-in outside observers to their plan for the future of the team’s backfield. When Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels proceeded to select Georgia RB Zamir White with the 122nd overall pick in the fourth round of the draft, it became clear that they are interested in putting that plan in motion much quicker than some may have anticipated.
So what is that plan? For starters, it seems unlikely that the Raiders will be giving out any sizeable contracts at the running back position for the foreseeable future. Along with Jacobs, 2021 free agency addition RB Kenyan Drake is also entering the last year of his contract, and as a carryover player from the Gruden-Mayock era, Drake seems unlikely to return in 2023 barring an impressive 2022 campaign. The Raiders also drafted RB Brittain Brown out of UCLA in the seventh round, as well as adding RBs Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah in free agency.
All that being said, fourth-round pick RB Zamir White appears in position to be the only returning running back on the roster in 2023 (with the exception of Brown potentially carving out a reserve role or a spot on the practice squad). This plan gives the Raiders minimal investment at the position moving forward, and the nearly empty depth chart aligns perfectly with the incoming 2023 rookie running back class, which projects early to be loaded with talent at the position.
“We take the quote-unquote best player,” Josh McDaniels said at the team’s post-draft press conference. “Each organization is going to evaluate these players differently, and we’re not all going to have the same grades on the same players. We understand that, and we try to do the best we can of evaluating what the player would be for the Raiders.”
If the McDaniels-Ziegler regime continues this pattern of making calculated investments at the running back position, as opposed to entering bidding wars for the services of the league’s top backs, the Raiders are in prime position to select a Day 2 running back in 2023 to become the team’s starter of the future.
If Zamir White has a better than expected rookie season in 2022, the team could take a different approach after letting Jacobs walk, which would be to attack the position late in the draft and through finding values via free agency to build a complement of backs with White as the centerpiece, or at least, the projected lead back in 2023 and beyond.
At the very least, the Raiders are giving themselves cap flexibility and a shot of youth into their running back room with the addition of Zamir White. Although 2022 may be Josh Jacobs’ last season as a Raider, the team is well positioned to field a young, effective and cost-efficient running back group for years to come.
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